IMAGINE: You discover your local councillor has been fiddling their expenses to claim for a holiday in the Maldives.

You think this is a disgusting use of taxpayers' money, so you write a blog post about it – just the facts, no more. Maybe it's not even a blog – just a Facebook post.

Your councillor doesn't like you telling people, so they decide to sue you for defamation of character.

The court case goes ahead, the accusations are proved to be completely true, and the judge rules in your favour.

Then you get told you have to pay the councillor's entire legal costs – thousands and thousands of pounds – he doesn't pay a penny, even though it was all true.

Maybe you can afford to pay their legal bill, but maybe you can't: maybe you have to start making cutbacks, maybe even selling some of your possessions to pay the bill.

That is the situation in which the Oxford Mail may soon find itself.

The Government is currently running a public consultation on whether to enact in law a rule, Section 40 of the Crimes and Courts Act, that would mean if anyone ever sues a newspaper for libel – anywhere in the country – the newspaper would have to pay all the legal costs, whether it wins or loses.

Act and have your say now

That is unless that newspaper signs up a Government-selected press regulator – a state intervention on freedom of speech the likes of which has never been seen in this country.

READERS' POLL: Majority agree with Oxford Mail over funding of press regulator 

The Section 40 rule would mean if the Oxford Mail published a story about a crooked businessman which they didn't like, a councillor fiddling their expenses or a police officer sacked for misconduct, they could take us to court, lose the case, and it wouldn't cost them a penny.

We, meanwhile, would be left with a bill for thousands.

Critics – including the Oxford Mail – say the bill would end 300 years of press freedom in this country, and inevitably force some papers to close.

Regional editor Gary Lawrence said: "People might think that the alarm being raised by the press over Section 40 is scaremongering but the simple fact is it presents a very real threat to the power of the press to expose wrongdoing, wastefulness and misrepresentation.

"Countless issues uncovered by the Oxford Mail and Oxford Times would never have seen the light of day had the paper been under the financial threat of this crippling act.

"Its architects say it will bring about responsible journalism but it in fact it gives those on the wrong side of morality a golden opportunity to squash investigations and remain hidden in the shadows.

"The government must recognise Ipso as the only regulator and continue to support local newspapers like the Mail and the Times which are the cornerstone of democracy and freedom of speech. I urge our readers to support us by going to and filling in the government’s feedback form."

The consultation has all come out of the Leveson Inquiry into press standards four years ago, which was prompted by the phone hacking scandal at News International: a small group of journalists carrying out despicable practices which were already illegal, mostly at the News of the World, which has now closed.

Despite that, critics – many of whom have themselves been the subject of unwanted media coverage – are still calling for the press to be muzzled.

Following Lord Leveson's report, the former newspaper watchdog the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) was wound up, and a new organisation founded to take its place: the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

Newspapers, including the Oxford Mail, pay to keep IPSO going, and in turn we are obliged to abide by its code: we monitor our coverage every day to check we are not being unfair to any individual or group of people, that we are giving people a right to reply and that we do not invade anyone's privacy unduly.

Since it was set up in September 2014, IPSO has received 15 complaints against the Oxford Mail, 13 of which were not upheld, two of which are ongoing.

But despite IPSO, a group of press reform campaigners have set up their own would-be regulation body, Impress, which Government has officially endorsed.

The body is funded by disgraced former racing boss Max Moseley, who has reason to dislike the media: in 2008 he sued the News of the World after it revealed he took part in an orgy with five prostitutes.

The UK Government is now on the verge of forcing every newspaper in the country to sign up to the group funded by Moseley, or face bankruptcy through costly lawsuits.

You may feel this was an invasion of privacy by the paper but the proposals being put forward punish all outlets for the actions of one with potentially devastating consequences.

But there is still a chance to fight it.

The public consultation closes on Tuesday and we ask all our readers to submit their thoughts – whatever they are.

We hope you agree that forcing newspapers to pay other people's legal bills is not the way to have a fit-for-purpose press.

Oxford Mail managing editor Sara Taylor said: "The vast majority of newspapers - including the Oxford Mail - are already signed up to an independent regulator: IPSO, the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The clue is in the name.

"Forcing newspapers to sign up to a regulator approved by politicians would fundamentally alter the balance of power between a free press and those the press exists to scrutinise. 

"Most newspapers liek the Oxford Mail refuse to do so, believing it would be a step towards state regulation and censorship. But if we don't the Government is threatening to introduce a 'costs order' in Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act. 

"That would mean that newspapers like the Oxford Mail, which continued to refuse to sign up to the Government-approved regulator could then be forced to pay all the legal costs for both sides in any libel or privacy action, even when they won the court case.

"This would have a chilling effect on newspapers' ability to hold the powerful to account. We wouldn't dare to expose corruption or wrongdoing in public office, even when we could prove them, for fear of massive legal bills. 

"If you believe in these values, in your right to know, then I really must urge you to help by actively showing your support"

The deadline for comments is 5pm on Tuesday, January 10. 

You can either respond online or email or write to: 

Press Policy, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 4th floor, 100 Parliament St, London, SW1A 2BQ